Celebrating One Year and Many More to Come: National Museum of African American History and Culture

Looking back at the National Museum of African American History and Culture opening which happened one year ago, on September 24, 2016.

Three men, two women and a child pulling rope to ring bell. Just two days ago, the Smithsonian celebrated the one-year anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). It seems like just yesterday that we were all waiting for the doors to open; yet, so much has happened in the past year. Since President Barack Obama rang the bell that opened the museum, long lines and happy faces are daily evidence that the museum’s long-awaited place on the National Mall is a deserving tribute to a history we all share.

The museum’s opening and the three-day festival that surrounded it saw Smithsonian staff from around the Institution pitch in for the celebrations. Staff from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival helped bring the program to fruition, highlighting music traditions from across African American heritage.  To welcome the overwhelming crowds that came to celebrate, staff pitched in for frontline jobs – taking tickets, giving directions, and assisting visitors and festival participants.  These volunteer efforts continued into the early weeks of museum operation as NMAAHC staff adjusted to the constant flow of visitors. 

Just over four months after opening, the National Museum of African American History and Culture hit its first major milestone: one million visitors. While crowds are to be expected during opening celebrations and the first few weeks, a steady, enthusiastic demand has outpaced capacity every day the museum has been open. At the one-year mark, nearly three million visitors have passed through the museum’s doors and the collections have grown by three thousand objects.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be celebrating this milestone with extended hours on September 23rd and 24th and two Community Day celebrations on the museum grounds. These celebrations with culminate in a panel discussion this evening, September 26th, “Reflections of the Little Rock Nine 1957–2017”. 

Here in the Archives, this anniversary is a reminder to reflect on all that has happened at NMAAHC and around the Smithsonian this past year. We celebrated the opening a year ago by looking at the journey that brought us to opening day. However, the story was just beginning. Each anniversary brings an opportunity to look back and document the milestones we commemorate. We take note of the celebrations, but also the hard work and Smithsonian-wide support that makes the celebrations possible. I did this by updating our chronology with milestones that have occurred this year at NMAAHC. And in doing so we build a resource that documents the evolution of a museum, showing the themes and initiatives that build the Smithsonian. This means you can now see a chronology entry marking collaboration during opening of the museum next to an entry marking the museum’s first exhibit, Let Your Motto Be Resistance, a 2008 partnership between the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Portrait Gallery.  Seeing these two beginnings next to each other lets us perceive just how deeply collaboration is imbued in the creation of this museum.

Scrapbook of Solomon Brown's Family Geneaology, Front of Photo of Solomon Brown, by Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. No. 15-098, Image Number: SIA2015-002687.

United States National Museum Labor Force, c. 1890, by Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Group 95, Image Number: 94-9550.

Fighter plane exhibited outside the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, by Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Group 95, Image Number: 91-520.

Zora Martin Felton, an education specialist, in her office at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, now known as the Anacostia Museum, 1983, by Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Group 371, Image Number: 2003-19552.

Team who put together "The Smithsonian's America", 1994, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. No. 98-015, Image Number: SIA2016-011419.

Jeannine Smith Clark, regent of the Smithsonian Institution, speaking at a conference in Chicago, by Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. No. 99-020, Image Number: SIA2016-011426.

Michael R. Barnes, Photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Institution at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland the evening of August 3, 2011, by Donald E. Hurlbert: National Museum of Natural History.

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